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Leavenworth County, Kansas

Leavenworth County, Kansas has been an important part of Kansas’s history, from Fort Leavenworth’s establishment in 1855, to its involvement in the Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War. Here Abraham Lincoln came to speak in 1859 and develop a platform for his upcoming presidential campaign.

The first European settlement in the area was Fort de Cavagnial, built in 1744. Named for its founder, François-Pierre Rigaud, Baron de Cavagnial, French governor of Louisiana, the fort served as a trade center between the French traders and soldiers and Kansa and other native peoples.

Leavenworth County, established in 1855, was named for Colonel Henry Leavenworth. Leavenworth established Cantonment Leavenworth, which was later renamed Fort Leavenworth. A building that is part of Fort Leavenworth was the first capital of Kansas.

Fort Leavenworth was established to protect those on the Santa Fe Trail from the dangers of Indian attacks, but has held many important purposes over its history, such as a supply base, Headquarters of the Upper Missouri Indian Agency, and operations base during the Mexican War. It was important during the Civil War and Confederate Sterling Price even targeted it during at 1864 raid. A federal military prison and later a Federal Penitentiary in 1895, have all been a part of the county’s history.

The Delaware Trust Lands were a part of the Leavenworth County and in the early years, many claimed land in the county. This led to many “squatters” wanting their land, but not having legal right to it in the capacity they claimed it. Despite knowing they were in the wrong, they still fought for their claims. The issue was eventually settled. Part of Wyandotte County used to be in Leavenworth County. Between old borders and current borders, Kickapoo, Delaware, Muncie, and Wyandotte lands have all been a part of Leavenworth County.

Leavenworth County was often at the center of violence during the years of Bleeding Kansas. Strong proslavery supporters controlled much of the city of Leavenworth and freestaters were not welcome. Proslavery individuals wanted to keep the antislavery population from traveling between Leavenworth and Lawrence. They posted armed men to stand guard when boats arrived along the river. The governor and mayor of Leavenworth took steps to calm the situation in October 1856. The issue, though, was not completely settled and some violence still occurred. General James H. Lane, who was an important figure to Kansas’s Free State cause, died in the county in 1866. Unwell health, which included insanity, caused him to commit suicide. 

Leavenworth County CourthouseThe issue of the county seat took three elections for it to be established at Leavenworth. Kickapoo one the first, Delaware the second, and Kickapoo the third, although it was a fraudulent election and that led to Leavenworth gaining the title. Leavenworth is a city of industry such as those of manufacturing, coal, and furniture production. Several railroads came through the town, helping them prosper.

Kansans knew Abraham Lincoln before his visit; he had gained prominence in a series of debates against Stephen Douglas while campaigning for a U.S. senate seat from Illinois. Lincoln, who lost the race to Douglas, was a Republican and was here to help his party’s candidates in the upcoming election. During his brief tour he spoke in Doniphan, Atchison, and Leavenworth counties to underscore the message that he believed slavery should not spread into the territory. His talking points became the core of an address he delivered a few months later as his presidential campaign became more public.

Grasshoppers brought some damage to the county, along with many others, in the 1860s. They invaded once again in 1874 and caused much further damage to crops.

Leavenworth County properties listed in the National and State Registers include the Abernathy Furniture Company Factory, an important Leavenworth business. James Abernathy started his Leavenworth furniture business career in 1856, and eventually grew his business into a successful furniture manufacturing company. The David J. Brewer House was the house of Brewer who held many public offices from president of Leavenworth Board of Education all the way up to serving on the Kansas Supreme Court, U.S. Eighth Circuit, and the U. S. Supreme Court. The Hollywood Theater, designed by Robert Boller, was built in the 1930’s. The Leavenworth County Courthouse was built in 1911-1913, after the previous one was destroyed in a fire. The Fred Harvey House, one of the Chain restaurants started by Fred Harvey who he himself was from Leavenworth, was built around 1875. The County contains two National Historic Landmarks. Fort Leavenworth and the Western Branch National Home for Disabled Volunteer Solders, which is now the Department of Veteran Affairs, Dwight D. Eisenhower Medical Center. It was founded in the 1880’s.

Individuals with connections to Leavenworth County include Colonel Daniel Read Anthony, editor of the Leavenworth Conservative newspaper, founded in 1861. Anthony was an abolitionist and influential editor, politician, and spokesman for the state of Kansas. He was the brother of suffragist Susan B. Anthony. Several individuals who served as governors, U. S. senators, congressmen, and justices of the Kansas Supreme Court are from the county. Justice David J. Brewer came to Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, in 1858 and established a law practice. He was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1889. A moderate conservative, he wrote an opinion upholding the constitutionality of law limiting working hours for women in industry.

Quick Facts

Date Established: August 25, 1855
Date Organized: September 17, 1855
County Seat: Leavenworth
Kansas Region: Northeast
Physiographic Region: Glaciated Region
Scenic Byways: Frontier Military, Glacial Hills
Courthouse: June 7, 1913


1827 - Cantonment Leavenworth is established, later renamed Fort Leavenworth.
1855 - Leavenworth County is established.
1854 - 1861- Kansas’s Territorial period, also known as Bleeding Kansas.
1859 - Abraham Lincoln stays several days in Leavenworth during a brief visit to Kansas Territory
1895 - Establishment of a federal prison. 

More on Leavenworth County


Entry: Leavenworth County, Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2010

Date Modified: August 2023

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.